Stella Stays is a prop-tech company that launched just 3 years ago offering a “show up and live” concept, with the aim of becoming the world’s most-loved residential hospitality brand. Stella Stays has achieved outstanding growth and is now present in five markets, UAE, KSA, Turkey, Bahrain and Canada with more than 1,000 contracted units, and with expansion plans to Egypt. We sit down with Mohannad Zikra, the Co-Founder and CEO of Stella Stays to better understand his business model and how it has disrupted the hospitality sector.
“Show up and live” vs “work from anywhere” approach
Stella Stays and hotels have completely different offerings. We don’t offer rooms; we offer fully furnished apartments within our curated community for both short and long stays. In addition, all the friction of the traditional guest and resident journeys; such as waiting time in the lobby, paperwork, payment, etc., are handled by technology.
The first main difference is in the type of accommodation that we offer. Every Stella Stays building has various apartment types, ranging from studios to 4-bedroom penthouses. Each apartment, exceptionally designed by our in-house interior design team, has all the “living amenities” that guests and residents expect, from washing machines to full kitchens, whether they stay for a night, a month, a year, or more.
The second difference between Stella Stays and hotels is our well-curated community. A community-driven living experience is at the core of Stella Stays’ offerings, featuring whenever possible, co-working and communal spaces, as well as an event calendar exclusively for residents and guests.
We offer modern and well-thought-through amenities that allow our guests to work, connect, unwind, and create new experiences. For example, our newly signed building in Cairo, Egypt, will include a co-working space, cinema room, cafe lounge and a shared dining room with a chef kitchen.
Most importantly, we have digitalized the entire guest journey. Our guests and residents can access the Stella Stays mobile application to enjoy a seamless and personalised experience; from booking a place, signing contracts, making payments, submitting an ID, to requesting services within 5 minutes. With Stella Stays, guests can complete their bookings and head directly to their apartment, which they can access through a smart door lock. They can also request a wide range of modern services, such as housekeeping, grocery shopping, laundry, car washing, booking a co-working meeting room or extending their stay.
At Stella Stays, we make the world everyone’s oyster, by allowing them to show up and start living a full life in major cities within minutes, instead of wasting time and money on overpriced hotels and a painful rental experience. We call it residential hospitality.
Unique business model
Finding and renting a place to live anywhere in the world is a painful experience. On top of everything, when you finally move in, you’re tied to the contract for at least one year, which limits your options to move with the opportunities life has to offer.
Our business model transforms that archaic process by simplifying the entire rental journey so residents can find a place to live and move in within minutes. And unlike Airbnbs, which consist of individually=managed furnished rentals with varying quality, we provide fully branded apartments within Stella Stays properties.
To reach a highly efficient and scalable business model, we focus on our fully managed buildings to ensure we can provide the safety, security, and consistency that our residents and guests deserve and expect. Our approach, in short, is to source great residential buildings, fit them out with our design standards, and use our technology to automate operations and manage short-term bookings and long-term rentals.
The inspiration behind this model
I have been to 25 countries, and I dreaded the hotel stay for every trip. The rooms were usually small and outdated. Don’t get me wrong, I have had great stays, but I’ve also had horrific ones. My worst stay was in San Francisco which was aa 1 BDR apartment that had no living room furniture. The host promised me that there would some my first night after coming back from dinner. I came back that night to a fuchsia-coloured sofa. At that stage, I knew there had to be a different, and better way to live short-term. That’s when we started Stella Stays.
Focusing on long-term residents while offering short-term stays
The properties need to be well-utilised both in terms of revenue and occupancy. We’ve developed in-house property management software from day 1 to manage the entire lifecycle, including distribution. Today, our proprietary technology can apply dynamic pricing and length-of-stay to maximize revenue and occupancy by automatically configuring the optimal mix of short-term and long-term rentals. Our system can automatically reconfigure and respond to market demand and economic conditions.
The key to success
We’ve worked hard to put together a team of highly-talented individuals passionate about challenging the status quo of traditional rentals and hospitality. They live, eat, and breathe innovation, which has been a massive factor in our success.
Millennials, GenZ and evolving consumer demand also play an essential role. The next generation of consumers is redefining the way we live and travel. If we look around, there are already new standards of experience that exist across many industries. Whether it’s transportation through Uber, consumer goods with Amazon or entertainment with Netflix and Spotify, consumers today expect services that are digital, easy to use and flexible. On the other hand. if we look at where we spend most of our time and money – it’s on home rentals and it takes weeks to rent an apartment, not to mention the complications and inflexibility of the entire process. Overall, it doesn’t make any sense when you really think about it.
COVID accelerated behavioural changes where flexibility in rentals has become more critical. As a result, there is an increase in acceptance and normalcy of furnished rentals.
There is also the rise of digital nomads. The UAE is now one of the progressive countries that offer freelancer visas to attract global talent to contribute to and grow its economy. One of the main obstacles for these talents to find a place to live is flexible, fairly priced, and well-furnished.
These are among some of the highly favourable macro tailwinds and evolving consumer demands that are driving our success and our out-performance versus traditional rentals and hospitality.
Who is Stella
Stella is the Italian word for “Star”. We’ve created a play on that word by referring to our units as Stellas – they are our stars. The word “Stella” also refers to the five-star experience that we offer across our portfolio.
We’ve spent the last three years establishing the foundation of Stella Stays through the development of our technology platform and our initial launches in 5 countries: UAE, KSA, Bahrain, Turkiye, and Canada. Our residents and guests love staying with us because they can literally show up and start living. It’s smart, hassle-free, and socially alive.
We intend to dominate the MENA region, accelerate our global expansion, and focus on our vision of becoming the most loved residential hospitality brand in the world, where everyone belongs and thrives.